Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hajj horror

Hundreds of people were trampled to death in Mina, Saudi Arabia Thursday, a tragic, often annual story in the spectacular Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj.

Deaths of these nature are, sadly, fairly common during hajj -- the byproduct of 2 million frenzied worshippers gathering in one place. I wrote a story about hajj last year, and the Muslims who I talked with admitted that parts of the pilgrimage are frightening.

During hajj, you’re going with the flow,” one former hajj participant told me. “It gets very crowded. Basically, people are stacked."

Mina, where worshippers throw stones at pillars representing the devil, is particularly dangerous: The year before I wrote my story, 200 people had been trampled to death there.

These deaths are horrific, but I think for many Muslims they do little to dispel the beauty and power of the pilgrimage. Most have prayed in the direction of Mecca five times a day for their whole lives. To see in person, the Kaaba, the city's ancient black shrine, is an overpowering experience for them, and almost everyone I talked with said they cried when they saw it. No other religion has a pilgrimage that comes close to hajj -- in size, scope or spiritual power.

Here's a link to the story I did last year on hajj:


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